I’m really excited for today’s show. I know I say that every time that’s because I am and it’s not just because it’s the 50th but because I’ve admired today’s guest, Dr. Tieraona Low Dog for a really long time.
I know I’m not the only one. If you listened to my last show, it was with Dr. Valencia Porter from the Chopra Center and she considers her her mentor as well. You can listen to that show on BlogTalkRadio or iTunes. We talked about how to apply the ancient science of Ayurveda into your life. It was a really cool show, very thorough.
So I actually wanted to share a little story today of what I’m doing for my birthday this summer, which will tie into the show. So in January of 2012, I attended the Scripps National Supplements Conference for the first time. They do it every January in San Diego and I listened to some phenomenal speakers, but the one who really stood out to me was a physician by the name of Tieraona Low Dog. And I don’t know if it was because she was joking about making hibiscus margaritas or kava shakes at her ranch near Santa Fe, or just her incredible background before becoming a doctor – and she’ll share that journey today – but she described herself as “the bridge between the woman growing peppermint in her garden and the researcher isolating menthol in a lab.” I just thought that was really cool. So at the end of her talk I went up to her and I told her I wanted to come to her ranch sometime to have a margarita with her and she said sure.
So anyway when I say I want to do something, I usually tend to do it! So fast forward 2 years later to this year and I was at the Scripps Conference again. I unfortunately missed most of her talk. I caught the beginning though, and I was once again really impressed. So I went to her website after to see if she’s still holding these retreats at her ranch and she is. And she teaches a Foundations in Herbal Medicine course. So long story short, I will be spending my birthday weekend next month in Santa Fe to learn from her, and I’m really, really excited. That’s my little dorky story, but I can’t wait. So let me read you her bio before I bring her on:
Dr. Low Dog’s exploration of natural medicine and role in modern healthcare began more than 35 years ago as she studied midwifery, herbal medicine, massage therapy, and martial arts before going on to earn her medical degree from the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine. An internationally recognized expert in the field of integrative medicine, dietary supplements, and herbal medicine, Dr. Low Dog was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. She served as the elected chair of the US Pharmacopoeia Dietary Supplements and Botanical Expert Panel. She was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Council for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. She’s been an invited speaker to more than 550 scientific and medical conferences, published 36 peer-reviewed articles, written 18 chapters for medical textbooks, and has authored 2 National Geographic books: Healthy at Home, which we are talking about today and Life is Your Best Medicine. Dr. Low Dog currently serves as the Fellowship Director for the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, where she oversees all aspects of the training of physicians and nurse practitioners in integrative medicine.”
Evelyne Lambrecht: Hi, Tieraona. Welcome to the show.
Dr. Low Dog: Thank you. It’s really my pleasure to be here with you.
Evelyne: So can you share you very interesting path of how you became a physician? Go ahead and share the long version because I really like listening to your story.
Dr. Low Dog: Well, we all love stories don’t we? I mean, that’s how people share and communicate. I think it’s one of the most important traits of healers, physicians – anybody – to be able to listen and hear other people’s stories.
I was very interested in massage therapy and midwifery and martial arts long before I was interested in Western medicine. I didn’t finish high school. I dropped out of high school and sort of was meandering around trying to find exactly what it is that I actually wanted to do with my life. I had dyslexia which was diagnosed thankfully early in my childhood, thanks to a very astute mother. And it helped having that early recognition and having some special help. But I tell you, by the time I got to high school, school was very difficult, reading was very difficult. And I just felt overwhelmed and I think suffered probably from low self-esteem because of my difficulties in school. And so I kind of meandered around trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do.
And I ended up opening a small, little leather shop. And lo and behold one day a woman comes in and she wants me to make her a little pouch that she wants to carry things in. And she told me she was a midwife. This was in Richmond, Virginia. And I said, “Wow! You’re a midwife. My great-grandmother was a midwife, and I’d love to come with you sometime.” We started a wonderful relationship. Her name was Juba, and she taught me a lot about midwifery, she taught me a lot about herbs, she taught me a lot about women, babies, birth, she taught me a lot about life. She was a very important person for me.
And one day I got interested in martial arts and I started taking Taekwondo down on Broad Street – Kim’s School of Taekwondo at 1617 West Broad Street in Richmond. And I became infatuated and I couldn’t get enough of martial arts. I couldn’t get enough of it! And for me it was this great confidence builder. I learned to discipline my body and discipline my mind. I found something I was good at. And I found that with all of the effort that I put into it, I would just get so much more back. And martial arts and midwifery and then massage school – I went to massage school in 1977 – that all began to really form me.
Now, herbal medicine was always a part of that. I didn’t know that everybody sort of didn’t know about herbal medicine. I thought kind of everybody’s family taught them the basics and so I was using herbal medicine and making remedies and things like this. And eventually I moved to New Mexico – Southern New Mexico – to Los Cruces. And there I opened up an herb shop and taught classes and did herbal medicine and was really enjoying my life and what I was able to accomplish with herbs.
Until one day there was a migrant worker who had come in who had a very sick child. And I suggested he take him to the clinic because I thought the baby was way too sick for me to care for and needed probably antibiotics, etc. When the man came back several days later, I thought it was to tell me that the baby was better. In fact, he brought me flowers and told me that he and his wife were going back to Mexico to bury the child. The baby had not survived. And it really threw me, and it threw me in a lot of different directions. And one of the things I realized was that herbal medicine and massage therapy and so many other things I knew were so good for so many problems, but not these really acute things that people came in with or these really, really serious illnesses. And I decided that I would go on to medical school and learn all of that.
And isn’t it interesting that I loved everything I learned in medical school and my residency training. I loved it all because it taught me so much about diagnosis and pathology and gave me the confidence and the tools to be able to work with more serious and acute ailments.
But I also found that it was really lacking when it came to a lot of the chronic problems in many of the day-to-day issues that people deal with. It’s like using a hammer for everything! And so many things aren’t nails. So actually it was kind of maybe a good thing that I took that long, winding road, because the blend of it has worked very well for me in my own personal life and raising my children, and also caring for the people that come to seek my help.
Evelyne: I think that’s what makes you so unique, because you do have those two different perspectives and you do such a good job of blending them.
Dr. Low Dog: Well on that note, you know that’s integrative medicine. I didn’t know there was a name for it. There were a lot of people doing this kind of medicine for a very long time, who never had a name for what we did. “Integrative Medicine” put a name and a framework around it, and it’s why I love the fellowship in Integrative Medicine down at the U of A where I’m the Fellowship Director. And I was delighted that you had Valencia Porter on. She is a dear friend and a precious soul, and such a wonderful practitioner of Ayurveda. She’s one of our graduates and so it’s been lovely and wonderful to be able to bring this to so many people.
Evelyne: Yeah. So today we’re mainly going to talk about your book, Healthy at Home, though we will talk about Life is Your Best Medicine a little bit, too. But what’s the premise of your book, Healthy at Home?
Dr. Low Dog: Oh my goodness. There are so many things that you can take care of at home, ranging from menstrual cramps and headaches to upset stomachs and heartburn and diarrhea and poor sleep and everything in between. These are lots of common problems that people have, that they’re not really sure how to take care of. So the book was really designed to give a lot of my recommendations and particularly my recipes that I’ve used for more than 30 years in my practice. And I give people some confidence and skills for being able to take care of a lot of these problems at home. And in the book it’s very clear. I’m very clear: “This is when you should call the doctor, and this is when you should go to urgent care. This is when it’s not appropriate really to take care of this anymore at home.” So it’s really a book designed to help you be able to care for you and your family safely at home using a lot of things that you may have in your cupboard, in your garden, or what you can easily get down at the health food store or natural grocery store. And you can use them safely, effectively, and often for a fraction of the cost.
Evelyne: Let’s talk about some of those. I know digestive complaints are always very common. Actually next week I’m interviewing Liz Lipski on the show. But what are some things that we can do at home for common digestive issues?
Dr. Low Dog: Well, there’s a whole lot of them it’s interesting that we have more than 120 million prescriptions for proton-pump inhibitors: so things like Nexium and Prilosec, and now they’re over the counter. So not only were they bought by prescription but now you can get them just over the counter without any prescriptions. And I don’t think most people realize that these proton-pump inhibitors shut down acid really, really effectively. And so they can be very useful for people with more severe forms of reflux disease, but they cause your magnesium to get low, they can deplete calcium, vitamin D, they cause iron deficiency anemia, they can impair B12 absorption, they increase your risk for pneumonia. I mean, it’s just amazing how many warnings are actually on the label because there are a number of concerns. There’s a reason you want stomach acid; it protects us and helps us be able to accumulate many nutrients. So why do people end up on these prescriptions and now over the counter proton-pump inhibitors when they could do so many things at home?
I’m a big fan of bitters. I love bitter herbs. And you know we don’t get a lot of bitterness in our diet anymore because you know, we’re so addicted to sweet, to sugar. And actually as a side note when people start introducing more bitters into their diet they often find that they have fewer sugar cravings. Bitters enhance digestion. They simulate digestive juices, and contrary to what most people think, heartburn isn’t so much a problem of having too much stomach acid, as having poor gut motility. So things just sort of don’t digest well and you get this acid sitting in your stomach and your food sitting in your stomach and it’s not moving. Bitters can be wonderful if taken before the main meal of the day. And there are a number of companies that make bitter products. You need to taste them. So you can get those and just take them 20 minutes before your main meal of the day. You can even get something like Angostura bitters which are available anyplace they sell wine and beer and that does the same thing. So people with gas, bloating, heartburn, I tell you, bitters are one of the most amazing things you can use.
Something else you may not know is that melatonin, melatonin which people think of primarily to help with people falling asleep. Melatonin, you have lots of receptors in your esophagus for melatonin and it does two things. One is it helps to shut down stomach acid in the evening as it’s time to go to sleep and it also increases the pressure in that lower esophageal sphincter so that you don’t get things coming up from your stomach back into your throat. Well, melatonin was shown in a wonderfully done study that compared it to Prilosec with and without. So melatonin, Prilosec with melatonin,and then just Prilosec by itself. And what they found was that the combination of melatonin and Prilosec worked very well, but at 8 weeks melatonin was just as effective as a proton-pump inhibitor for completely alleviating heartburn. That’s pretty amazing. Supplemental melatonin is available over the counter here and is quite safe. The dose used in that study was 3 mg.
So there are a number of thing people can do for heartburn and bloating and gas and easy simple things. I give you a number of other recipes in the book for, like, chamomile for little children with upset tummies, and lemon balm and fennel seeds after a meal if you have a little bit of bloating. So lots and lots of things that can be done for digestion. And let me tell you: digestion is the foundation of good, physical health. So you gotta make sure the digestive track is working in an optimal way.
Evelyne: With the bitters, do you just put a couple drops in the water, or how do you dose that or take it?
Dr. Low Dog: It depends upon the bitter product. Most of these bitters, it’s about a couple teaspoons – a teaspoon to a couple teaspoons, and those are put in a small glass of water. I like mine in fizzy water. Just taking a little in a carbonated liquid, and you take that 20 minutes before the meal. Follow the directions on the bottle because some of them are half a teaspoon, most of them are a couple teaspoons for bitters. And they recommend that you take them in a little bit of water. I have bitter recipes actually in the book. I gave some of my favorites that I make and use.
Evelyne: Great. Let’s talk about colds a little bit. What are some common complaints related to cold symptoms that we don’t need to run to the doctor or even to CVS for?
Dr. Low Dog: Right. And you know, everybody gets upper respiratory infections, colds and coughs and all the things that go along with it. Children get them and old people and everybody in between. And it is amazing how much we spend on over-the-counter medications. Now it’s interesting that a number of years back, the American Academy of Pediatrics and also a number of family docs complained to the Food and Drug Administration about how many children under the age of six were actually being seen in the emergency room and urgent care as side effects from over-the-counter cough and cold medication. And that prompted the FDA…
Dr. Low Dog: Yeah, many deaths actually. Not just severe side effects but actually children dying. So the FDA said, “Okay, we’re going to require on these over-the-counter products that they say children under 4 should not take them, and children 4 to 6 make sure you talk to your health care provider first.” Now, I remember when this happened because all the parents and radio station people were contacting me asking, “Well, what do you do if you can’t give you 3-year old over the counter cough and cold remedy? What do we do?” And I’m thinking, “Wow, really?” It was just shocking to me that we don’t even know. First of all you don’t have to do a lot for a cold; it gets better by itself. But if you want to relieve symptoms, you can do so many things.
One of my favorites is thyme cough syrup. I love making thyme cough syrup, you can make it using fresh or dried. And thyme has this wonderful ability to thin mucus. So if it’s kind of thick it makes it thinner and easier to cough up, while at the same time suppressing the cough. It does two things. It helps it easier to expectorate things, and it thins the mucus in your nose so it’s not so thick and goopy, but it also quiets cough. And you mix that with honey – honey has been shown in clinical trials to be as effective as over-the-counter cough medicine, and honey doesn’t have side effects. So you mix the thyme, you make this nice strong tea, and then you put some honey in it and you can take that as a syrup or as a sort of a strong tea for colds and cough. If you’re using it for a child who’s under one year of age you do want to use maple syrup, it’s very rare, but you can have something called infant botulism if you use honey in children under the age of 12 months, so maple syrup is a preferred choice. And it also helps smooth that sore throat and cough and irritability. So think about that: no side effects, completely safe. You can get fresh thyme at any grocery store. You probably have dried thyme in your cupboard. And it works so wonderfully. After the book came out, I got so many people emailing me saying, “Oh my gosh, this is so wonderful! It works so great.” And I was so happy to share the recipe. I mean, I sort of just learned it over time. I’ve know about it forever. I’ve used it for more than 30 years. But I think it’s not really my knowledge, this is knowledge that’s been known from people for hundreds if not thousands of years – this kind of wisdom about how to care for things like coughs and colds and running noses.
Sage is another one. My grandmother used to take sage and she’d steep it and she’d put it by the kitchen counter. And when we got sick with a bad sore throat she’d say, “Okay, honey when you walk through the kitchen” – because you had to go through the kitchen to get to anywhere. She said, “Just take it and gargle with the sage and then spit it into the sink.” She didn’t tell us to swallow. She said just spit it in the sink. And then she said “And please rinse out the sink.” She was smart about it all. And I thought, “Oh, you know, that’s interesting. I never thought much about it. It sure seemed to work when I was a kid.” Later on wouldn’t you know, two studies done in Europe: one just used a sage spray in the back of the throat and found it was really effective for relieving sore throat pain – I mean, very effective versus a placebo spray. And another study used sage and echinacea and found it was equivalent to lidocaine. This is lidocaine for relieving a sore throat. And I thought, “Wow! How did my grandma know that?” And it has the antiseptic properties, too, but how did she know? And I mean I also loved echinacea; I used echinacea a lot for myself for sore throat as an adult. And echinacea is a wonderful anesthetic.
But this kind of wisdom – I don’t want it sealed off. I don’t want this wisdom to be lost because we’re seeing more and more antibiotic resistance, we’re seeing more and more overtreatment and things that don’t work as well because we overuse them. So people go in for colds, coughs and sore throats. Ninety percent of sore throats are viral. Antibiotics are not going to do a thing for them. And you end up giving people prescriptions for antibiotics. They take them and we see more and more resistance. This is why I think it’s important for people to be able to know how to take care of things at home using very natural remedies. And when we should go in. Let me tell you: I’m a big believer in antibiotics, I think they kind of are our modern warriors of modern times. They save countless amounts of lives. The problem is that they’re overused and we need to save them for the times when they’re really important and not use them for minor kinds of problems for which there’s no benefit.